Xfinity practice report at New Hampshire

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FINAL PRACTICE

Ryan Truex jumped to the top of the speed chart in the final minute of practice for the Lake Region 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. His fastest lap was 128.898 mph.

He beat Brad Keselowski (128.415 mph) by .111 seconds.

Christopher Bell‘s third fastest lap of 128.023 mph was .091 seconds slower than Keselowski and .202 seconds slower than Truex.

Justin Allgaier (128.014) and Austin Dillon (127.958) rounded out the top five.

Bell had the quickest 10 lap average at 127.356 mph.

Click here for the complete final practice report.

FIRST PRACTICE

Cup regular Keselowski topped the practice chart in the first practice session for the Lake Region 200. His fastest lap was 128.040 mph.

Cole Custer was second in that session with speed of 127.619, which was .098 seconds slower than Keselowski.

Ryan Preece, who finished second in this race last year, landed third on the chart with a lap of 127.491.

Nemechek (127.419 mph) and Matt Tifft (127.321) rounded out the top five.

The only other Cup regular in the field, Dillon (126.412) posted the 15th fastest lap.

Austin Cindric spun with 32 minutes remaining and did significant damage to the No. 60 Ford. He was seventh on the speed chart at the time with a lap of 126.892 mph. The team elected to make repairs instead of rolling out a backup car.

Click here for complete first practice results.

Top three Xfinity drivers separated by three points entering New Hampshire

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Things have gotten pretty tight at the top of the food chain in the Xfinity Series.

Following last weekend’s race at Kentucky Speedway, the point standings are not led by just one driver.

Through 17 races, the standings are led by both Elliott Sadler and Daniel Hemric, who are tied with 608 points.

To add to an already close situation, they have Cole Custer breathing down their necks is only three points behind them heading into Saturday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (4 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

How did this situation arise considering none of the drivers have claimed a win this year?

Consistency. It’s disappeared for Sadler while Hemric and Custer have used it to catch the JR Motorsports driver.

Following the June 2 race at Pocono Raceway, Sadler had a 62-point lead over second in the standings. His lead slipped away over the next five races thanks to finishing 12th or worst three times.

He placed 30th at Michigan, 28th at Iowa and 12th at Kentucky.

That was after entering Michigan with top-10 finishes in the first 12 races of the season.

In the five races since Pocono, Hemric hasn’t finished worse than eighth and has three top-three finishes. Custer has four top fives and a DNF (wreck, Daytona).

Compared to this point last year, Sadler has more top fives (10 to seven in 2017), the same number of top 10s (14) and his average finish is 7.9 compared to 8.8.

Sadler, is mired in a 56 race winless streak that began in October 2016. And this season he’s been the best finishing Xfinity regular just once and the best finishing JR Motorsports driver only seven times.

Hemric and Custer are each in their second full-time seasons in Xfinity and have shown significant improvement over this same point in their rookie campaigns.

Through 17 races, Hemric has two poles (one in 2017), nine top fives (two in 2017), 13 top 10s (six in 2017) and no DNFs (three in 2017).

Custer has four poles (none in 2017), seven top fives (two in 2017), 13 top 10s (seven in 2017) and two DNFs (three in 2017).

Over the last eight races Hemric and Custer are tied for the most top fives with six. In that stretch, Hemric leads the series in top 10s (eight), average finish (4.13) and race points earned (311).

The point standings would be even narrower if not for two penalties dealt out by NASCAR this season to two of the three Xfinity regulars who have won races.

Christopher Bell and Justin Allgaier enter New Hampshire in fourth (-17 points) and fifth (-39).

Bell lost 10 points after the Charlotte race for a post-race heights violation.

Allgaier was dealt a 25-point penalty following his win at Dover for a post-race inspection violation.

The two drivers would be in the same spot in the standings without the penalties.

Among Sadler, Hemric and Custer, it may be Custer who is the favorite to leave New Hampshire with points lead.

Custer is the only one of the trio with any success at the 1-mile track.

He’s won there in the K&N Pro Series East (2013) and in the Camping World Truck Series (2014).

He placed ninth in his first Xfinity start there last year.

“I think we’ve had really good cars in the past at short tracks and I think it’s more natural to me than a mile-and-a-half,” Custer said in a media release. “It’s probably like that for most guys. We just grew up running short tracks and didn’t have to deal with aero as much. We took a lot of good notes from New Hampshire last year that we’ll build on.”

Meanwhile, in 14 career starts at New Hampshire, Sadler has only led 26 laps and he hasn’t finished better than sixth since he returned to full-time Xfinity competition in 2011.

“We’re bringing the car we ran in Richmond, which is one of my favorites,” Sadler said in a media release. “We know it’s fast and is capable of a top-three finish. The end of the regular season isn’t too far away, so we’ve got to stick to our strategy, earn stage points and ultimately get ourselves and our partners a win.”

Sadler led 30 laps and finished third at Richmond.

Hemric placed 12th in his first Xfinity start in Loudon last year. In two Truck Series starts, he placed sixth and 28th (DNF).

“New Hampshire is always a place I look forward going to each year, especially how our company is on the short tracks right now,” Hemric said in a media release. “I feel like I know what I want in terms of speed when I get to a place like New Hampshire, it’s just a matter of getting our race car where we want it. I feel good headed to New Hampshire this weekend.”

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Tonight’s Xfinity race at Kentucky: Start time, lineup and more

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The last time the Xfinity Series raced at Kentucky Speedway, Tyler Reddick won to earn his first career series victory. Could the same thing happen in tonight’s Alsco 300? Daniel Hemric and Brandon Jones are among those hoping that is the case.

Here’s all the info for tonight’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Larry Bailey, Chairman, Bowling Green Area Convention Visitors Bureau, will give the command to start engines at 8:17 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 8:25 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 200 laps (300 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 45. Stage 2 ends on Lap 90.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at noon. Qualifying is at 5:05 p.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 6:15 p.m. Driver introductions are at 7:45 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: County music recording artist Andy Velo will perform the anthem at 8:11 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race beginning at 8 p.m. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Countdown to Green on NBCSN. Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 7:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for sunny skies with a high of 86 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Tyler Reddick won by 14.5 seconds in September, finishing ahead of Brennan Poole and Justin Allgaier. Kyle Busch won at Kentucky last July, finishing ahead of Ryan Blaney and Erik Jones.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying is at 5:05 p.m.

Justin Haley: ‘In my belief, I still won – unofficially’

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NASCAR had dramatic finishes in back-to-back weeks at Chicagoland Speedway in Cup and Daytona International Speedway in the Xfinity series.

One will be part of the Cup highlight reels for decades. The other might be used by NASCAR to illustrate the yellow line rule.

Justin Haley’s last-lap pass on Kyle Larson and Elliott Sadler was deemed illegal when the left-side tires of his Chevrolet crossed over the double yellow line. Larson, who crossed the finish line behind Haley, was crowned the winner, but one week later Haley still thinks the trophy should be his.

“I did cross the start/finish line first, so in my belief, I still won – unofficially,” Haley said in Kentucky Speedway’s media center after posting the fastest lap in Thursday’s final truck practice for the Buckle Up in Your Truck 225.

On the final restart at Daytona, Haley pushed Justin Allgaier in the outside groove. Haley remained dedicated to the outside lane as Larson pushed Allgaier out of position. Exiting Turn 4 on the white flag lap, Haley was momentarily shuffled to fourth, but that gave him a clear space through traffic to the bottom groove. Like a Jack-in-the-Box, he popped out of the pack and shot past the leaders. – but his momentum carried him across the double yellow line and out of bounds on a restrictor-plate track.

“I don’t know when it sunk in. It’s just kind of how it went. I don’t get the opportunity to go over there in Xfinity much.”

More: Justin Haley says it was ‘BS call’ by NASCAR to nullify win 

In order to progress up NASCAR’s ladder system from the Camping World Truck Series, Haley was given three opportunities with GMS Racing in the Xfinity series. He finished 12th at Iowa Speedway and came within inches of winning Daytona. His last scheduled opportunity will come at Watkins Glen International.

“Those were kind of my three shots to make something happen and if I didn’t, I wasn’t going to go too far in my career. So, I had to make the most of it and I think I have to this point.”

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter.

In up-and-down season, Justin Allgaier gets reward in special helmet

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Justin Allgaier is having an odd year in the Xfinity Series and he’ll end that year with an odd, special helmet.

At first glance, the JR Motorsports driver is having arguably the best season of his NASCAR career.

Through 14 races he’s the only Xfinity regular with two wins – his second win in 2017 didn’t come until race 26.

Allgaier leads the series in laps led with 458 (Kyle Busch is second with 225), and with seven top fives he’s in position to exceed his 2017 total (10).

But then you take a closer look.

Allgaier has four DNFs, three more than at this point last year. His average finish is 12.7, compared to his total of 11.5 at this point a year ago.

Also he enters Saturday’s race at Chicagoland Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) sixth in the standings, a result of a 25-point penalty following his Dover win for a post-race inspection violation. He would be fourth without the penalty.

“The good stats are better than they’ve ever been,” Allgaier told NBC Sports. “But the bad stats are really hurting us. .. I’ll be honest, I’ve made some mistakes this year that I have been frustrated at myself for making. But on the flip side of it, I think the speed has come because we’ve laid it all out on the table. We’ve pushed ourselves to be the best team we can be. I think from my standpoint those crashes have been tough.”

Three of Allgaier’s four DNFs have been the result of crashes. Those came at Daytona and in consecutive weekends following his Dover win at Charlotte and Pocono. He finished in the top 10 in both stages at Charlotte and Stage 2 at Pocono before his wrecks.

“I think I’ve learned more this year in the DNFs and the odd races than I’ve probably learned in the last four or five years in all of the good races,” Allgaier said. “The worst part is those bad ones, the running position of where we were running whenever we crashed would have easily takes some of the heartache out of what we’ve had to go through. I think that’s what makes or breaks a season, is being able to overcome those bad days and push yourself forward. Our team has been very resilient. I’m excited about the playoffs. We’re in the playoffs, we can keep pushing hard. I think once we get to the playoffs, I think we’re going to have a great shot at making our way back to Homestead and trying to go for that championship again.”

Ahead of Allgaier in the standings are Christopher Bell, teammate Tyler Reddick, Daniel Hemric, Cole Custer and points leader Elliott Sadler.

Bell and Reddick are the only drivers out of that group who have won this season.

Even with his two wins and other impressive stats, Allgaier feels his No. 7 team is overlooked compared to the younger drivers and his teammate in Sadler.

“Oh, 100 percent,” Allgaier said. “But I’m OK with that. I’m not the type that needs the glitz and the glamour really of being the favorite. … I think a lot of times I work better whenever there’s no pressure. You just go out there and you do your job and if you run good, you run good.”

All the pressure on Allgaier to make the playoffs has been eased following his win at Iowa two weeks ago. Allgaier’s team had briefly qualified through his Dover win before NASCAR’s penalty.

Allgaier isn’t the only one happy that he’s actually in the playoffs. His daughter Harper has a special reason to see her dad going for the championship.

Last year, during his team’s celebration for winning the regular season-finale at Chicagoland, Harper surprised Allgaier with a helmet she painted for him to use during the seven-race postseason.

Affinity for artwork runs in the family. Allgaier is a graphic design enthusiast who made the decals for his own race cars throughout his career. He caught the bug from his father, who taught him to draw in 3D, and his grandfather, who made figures out of tree bark and even made a drawing of him winning the Daytona 500.

Allgaier promised Harper he’d let her design his helmet again this season if he made the playoffs.

“I’ve basically told her she has free rein,” Allgaier said. “I’ve always been into that. I’ve always been into my helmets. To see my daughter kind of take that serious and really enjoy that time was cool to me. I’m open to whatever she wants to try to do. I think it’s going to be really cool whatever they come up with. We’ll see how it plays out. I know she’s already got some ideas. She wants a unicorn on there, which I thought was a little interesting. She wants lots of glitter. I feel the next one is going to have lots of glitter on it.”